Tuesday | June 21, 2022

Event Overview

Labor unions are opportunities for workers to practice democracy in their workplace. Colleagues vote to be represented by a union or not. Union members vote to ratify contracts or go on strike. Workers vote to elect their union leaders. With that practice in workplace democracy, what is a union’s role in upholding the larger democracy in their country? When the whole system of democracy is under attack, whether through voter suppression or the corruption of candidates, how can a union fight back for the common good, to expose disinformation and uphold a nation’s democracy?

In America, we have experienced dramatic swings in elected leaders, in local, state and national offices in the last decade. While in the Philippines, this past May a president and vice-president, who were both children of former elected leaders, were both elected to lead. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of disgraced Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, won the country’s presidential elections in a landslide victory, putting his family back in power after 36 years. Little is known about how he will govern beyond vague generalities of “unity.” Marcos succeeds President Rodrigo Duterte, a tough-talking populist.  Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, was elected vice president as Marcos’s running mate. Since Duterte took office in 2016, his “war on drugs” has killed thousands of mostly urban, poor people with impunity. The security forces have harassed or “disappeared” thousands of activists, trade unionists, civil rights defenders, Indigenous leaders, lawyers, journalists, and environmentalists in a campaign that involves the vilification, called “red-tagging,” of people deemed to support communist insurgents.  Duterte also sought to silence his public critics, including politicians and news organizations like “Rappler.”

Moderated by former USAID administrator and Senior Fellow at Brown University and former dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota Brian Atwood, AFT president and ASI president of the Board of Directors, Randi Weingarten, and Philippine labor leader Annie Enriquez Geron discussed the work being done by their unions in the United States and the Philippines and what unites their efforts to strengthen their respective country’s democracies amidst continued assaults. With Jessica Tang, ASI Board member, Boston Teachers Union president, and co-chair of the AFT’s AAPI Task Force providing opening comments and context.



Jessica Tang, President, Boston Teachers Union; member, Board of Directors, Albert Shanker Institute; Co-Chair, AFT’s AAPI Task Force


Brian Atwood, Visiting Fellow, Brown University’s Thomas Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs; former dean, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota


Annie Enriquez Geron, General Secretary of Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), Philippines

Randi Weingarten, President American Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker Institute Board of Directors